By Dan Pool, Editor
It used to be something to do nothing. Now nobody seems to do nothing any more; everyone is too busy with something.
Allow me to elaborate.
In the rural South of the last generation an important part of most houses (from the nicest to the most meager) was the place you went to watch traffic pass. Perhaps it was a rocking chair on a front porch, or a swing on a screened porch, or some metal chairs underneath a shade tree. Note, until recently Adirondack chairs were confined to the Adirondack region and the rest of the world used flimsy yard furniture with poorly constructed spring bottoms.
From your shaded vantage you watched traffic go by - especially in the evening. You weren’t waiting on anyone particular to pass nor trying to develop a new traffic plan. You didn’t expect anything to happen. You were doing nothing in all its glory -- either alone or in pairs or in small groups with light conversation mixed-in.
Traffic watching isn’t a popular hobby today.
Front porches are now designed to be looked at by passing motorists rather than a spot for watching from. Nor do you find many sitting areas along the roads of subdivisions. If you left a bunch of chairs under a tree in a gated community, you’d likely get a nasty letter from the POA.
The idea of spending an evening watching traffic seems like something from another century even though older members of the community still maintain solitary watches. And they’ll still wave at you.
Imagine telling your co-workers you spent an evening with your wife just sitting there?
“So what did you do last night?”
“After dinner, sat on the front porch until it got dark watching the traffic pass.”
“That’s horrible. Something wrong?”
One reason an evening spent doing nothing strikes people as so abnormal is the widespread belief that to be happy and successful you must be busy.
To be caught doing nothing, like sitting in a comfortable chair watching cars, would be embarrassing as it implies you aren’t important enough to have a calendar filled from morning to night.
A second reason you won’t catch people watching plain ol’ cars is because they can watch super-slick videos of dogs, funny accidents or uber-attractive people on their phones.
And rather than shooting the breeze with wife, uncle or neighbor, instant messaging allows us to communicate with hundreds of people who will probably tell us very important opinions and juicy gossip.
In the modern schedule there is no time to do nothing by yourself at home. You gotta be doing something and thanks to modern technology we can all do something all the time. From checking e-mails to shopping for a new gadget, there is no time for downtime. Especially if you want to keep up with the Zuckerbergs.
While we have evolved so that watching cars isn’t the social activity it used to be, we also report growing more unhappy; perhaps the two are related. Author David Foster Wallace wrote that boredom is the antidote to modern life but we certainly don’t tolerate boredom any longer.
A Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index found last year that Americans are the least happy they have been in a decade. The poll, which interviewed more than 160,000 Americans, found specifically those who were unhappy had “little interest or pleasure in doing things.”
That’s the problem in a nutshell, since the 1980s, we’ve been led to believe we need to do things. Seinfeld, a television show about nothing, is no longer on the air because people won’t tolerate a group of people who aren’t busy doing something.
Perhaps the researchers should have asked the 160,000 Americans their opinions on doing nothing. And then suggested they go do it on the front porch.
The subject of a several-year-old news story has called us twice requesting we alter our online account. The story about him was positive and accurate but there is a personal item in it that has changed according to the recent call. He made a polite request that we delete or replace a portion of the story as the presence of the personal information, which this subject supplied himself, now creates conflict whenever it pops up on an internet search.
We declined to make any change. On the surface it may seem harmless to alter a trivial portion of a news story that few people have any interest in at this point. There is nothing the outside world/a future employer/a voter would find in that story to affect the subject’s career, political chances, or reputation.
For us it’s the principle involved. To help this fellow out would literally change history. Even though the individual in question will never make a footnote in the annals of Pickens County, changing an accurate recording of an event is anathema to anyone who takes truth and facts seriously.
We published the story and it was accurate. It was a complete snapshot of a minor event and we aren’t changing it to suit someone’s fancy.
If we had done this guy a favor, it would open the door to future requests and erodes a newspaper’s responsibility to record the daily events, good and bad and minor.
For argument’s sake, you could take it up a small notch - suppose a politician wanted a column he once wrote endorsing some program/person removed online as the political winds had since changed. He might argue that he had written it but didn’t feel that way any longer so we should delete it -- and give him leeway to claim he had never felt that way.
Or to go another step, some 40-year-old asking us to remove an arrest story from when he was 18 as it keeps popping up on searches (young people be careful because this does happen).
To take this argument to the extreme, consider that in the oft-cited book 1984 - the main character works at the Ministry of Truth. What he does there is change books, records and newspapers to make sure history accurately reflects the current Big Brother ideology. Just like this caller to the Progress, it is much more convenient when the past can be edited to accommodate the present.
We would also like to point out that the man calling the Progress didn’t ask us to change our print editions, bound in book form, here and at the library and at the UGA archives and in many cases stored in trunks or clipped in scrapbooks or hanging on refrigerators. Nor did he ask us to recall all the issues we sold the week he made the paper. No one would even consider making those requests because they are so unrealistic. What’s printed on old-fashioned paper and mailed to several thousand people every week is as good as set in stone.
There is no altering published print editions, regardless of the power or position of the person offended, embarrassed or angry. There is no going back a few years later and claiming something didn’t happen when you know darn well archives still have that news story about it.
Websites can be changed and online archives deleted. On social media, how do you know if the post you find is an unedited retelling?
Maybe newspapers are old-fashioned, but like a lot of things and people who are old-fashioned, we are also reliable, stable, and not subject to whims.
Jasper is Jasper. It’s not Blue Ridge or Ellijay or Ball Ground.
It gets tiresome to hear so often how many tourists flock to the other towns, and if Jasper did something differently we could be like them – as it’s incorrectly assumed everyone here wishes it to be.
The usual list of suggestions for local betterment include improving the road leading into downtown, developing progressive leadership, more attractive streetscapes, better signage on the four-lane, installing fancier night lighting, luring a tourist train to operate here or finding magic gnomes to cast spells on the courthouse lawn. If we just did the right combination of those things, then we might also become the type of town with fudge, olive oil and bike shops downtown.
Maybe someone out there has the formula to suddenly make the First Mountain City widely known as a place to visit. However, that seems improbable; Not impossible. We are not closed to new ideas, but if you believe changing the growth patterns along the Highway 515 corridor is as simple as sprucing up street corners, you are sorely underestimating the challenge.
Jasper is one of the finest places to hang your hat, but Jasper doesn’t appear to be a great place to visit -- as in be a tourist. It certainly doesn’t draw the crowds like our neighbors to the north.
There is no definitive answer as to why tourists, weekend shoppers and even casual dinners are more attracted to areas both to the north and south.
But here are a few things that are different with Jasper.
• We aren’t truly a mountain county. We may have the first mountains you reach driving north from Atlanta, but you really need to move up the road another 30-40 miles to hit solid mountains. Burnt Mountain is nice to look at, but that’s about it for natural attractions. No public lakes, no national forest, no streams, very limited hiking. Without those assets you miss the cabin rental business, the rafters, the hikers, the trout-fisherman. You also miss the efforts that private business throws into marketing when their operation depends on steady visitors.
• We aren’t a metro county either. Cherokee and Forsyth counties may be booming now and when they fill up, whether we want it or not, the wave may reach Pickens. But there is plenty of open space to the south - witness the growth in Ball Ground. Metro-housing expansion may be an unstoppable force for change eventually, but not right now.
Perhaps we aren’t destined to be the type of place where out-of-towners flock on weekends, nor the type of place where 200-home subdivisions and new chain restaurants open weekly. But, just because tourists prefer to head further north doesn’t mean we have done something wrong.
And the fact that we have to drive 20 minutes (either north or south) to reach Chick-fil-a is a fine tradeoff for not sitting in traffic for 20 minutes to get on Highway 515 from Jasper.
In fact, we might do well to remember Jasper is a great place to live for a whole bunch of reasons: A small town where you can walk alone after dark and generally drive without congestion. It’s the type of town where if you stick around long enough you will learn the names of people in the stores, restaurants and out in the community. It’s a friendly town and rarely crowded.
That description in no way sounds like Blue Ridge or the former farming area along Highway 20 in Cherokee County, any longer.
Rather than chasing a likely unobtainable goal of heavy tourism growth, it would be better to look at what makes Jasper such a great place to live and protect that.
Next time a disgruntled soul rambles on about how we aren’t busting at the seams with new businesses, the best answer might be “thank goodness.”
By Angela Reinhardt
Last week I had a lunch meeting with a colleague who was sitting in the booth when I arrived. As I approached the table, he stood up and asked if he could help me with my coat. I declined, but only because it was freezing and I was stuffed into two jackets, which would have made the gesture more awkward than he’d anticipated. After we’d discussed an upcoming project and lunch was over, he again offered to help with my coat and opened both the restaurant door and my car door.
When I drove off it occurred to me that the art of being a gentleman is dying. It’s being smothered by an unfortunate bedfellow of gender equality that likens chivalry with slimy or “benevolent” sexism, and the over-casualization of society and relationships in general.
This colleague is from an older generation than my own and, outside of my husband who regularly opens doors for me when we’re in public and carries heavy bags, I rarely see men around my age (36) extend such gestures.
I consider myself a progressive and independent woman. I believe in equal rights, equal pay, and sexual respect; I cuss; I could hardly be considered a “romantic;” and don’t shy away from heavy lifting or getting dirty – but genuine (the genuine part is important) acts of chivalry make me feel respected and special and I don’t want to live in a world where they don’t exist. My son is 12 and it would make me proud to see him treat females with such respect and dignity when he gets older.
But what’s a man to do when women might not want you to take their coat?
Every morning on the way to school my daughter and I listen to the Jeff and Jenn Show. One of their segments is called “Ghost Hunting” – a listener calls the station to get help finding out why a person disappeared from their life. In this episode, a man told the hosts he was confused when a lady stopped returning his calls after they went on what he thought was a great first date. The hosts call the lady, who tells them she was offended when he pulled out her chair - she was a successful business woman and didn’t need help from a man. This woman is not alone. According to one survey, 11 out of 12 women say if a man offered her his seat she wouldn’t accept it.
For this woman, having a man pull out her chair is a sign of feminine weakness. At the same time, the man struggles to understand his place in an increasingly feminist world where gender roles have shifted so much. When a man opens your door or lets you order first, it doesn’t show weakness in my mind. Having a man put his coat over a puddle is overkill, but women can be empowered and successful and accept these gestures without feeling like they’re being sent back home to cook and take care of kids.
Matters are complicated with the general devolution of what’s expected and/or demanded in relationships. Guys aren’t for the most part gentlemen, and women don’t expect them to be. Things have become so casual that a lot of men are comfortable sending pics of their genitals after the first or second date. Comedian Aziz Ansari discusses this unfortunate phenomenon in his stand-up special Buried Alive. He surveys the crowd and nearly all the women had received a similar photo. He then comments on how unacceptable this behavior would have been a few decades ago.
“I’d get thrown in jail the next day! Polaroid d*@! bandit strikes again!”
A male columnist from the UK writes, “Yes, we need to make sure that women are truly treated as our equals in society, but let's not use that as an excuse to stop being gentlemen.”
As a culture we’re trying to work out the kinks when it comes to gender equality, but as a modern woman I still like a gentleman, and I value manners, respect, and courtesy. Like a female Cosmopolitan journalist writes in “Why We Still Want a Gentleman,” manners never go out of style.
The political fight to build a wall across America’s southern border ignores one historical fact: Walls don’t work. History is filled with examples of failed efforts to secure countries from barbarians, Mongols, Germans and Amorites with stone, rock, concrete and barbed wire. None were successful.
Here is a partial list:
• The Amorite Wall – (From History.com) -- During the 21st century B.C., the ancient Sumerians constructed what is known as the “Amorite Wall” (to keep out the Amorites) which stretched for over a hundred miles between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. It failed when it was either over-ran or hostile nomads simply went around it.
• Hadrian’s Wall – Around 122 B.C. Roman Emperor Hadrian built a wall to keep barbarians out of Roman controlled Britain. This wall stretched for 73 miles and may have served a purpose for many years, but eventually time and looting it for personal building materials led to its destruction in many areas.
• Great Wall of China – Made of different materials and in different styles it stretches for thousands of miles across China’s north. It was built over several hundreds of years (starting in the 3rd century and still under construction in the 1600s) with portions up to 25 feet tall and complete with watchtowers. Despite hundreds of years of construction, costing an untold number of lives (forced labor), the wall was ineffective as the Mongols bypassed it (some say from un-manned gates) and sacked Beijing in 1550. It was again busted through in 1644 by the Manchus ending the Ming Dynasty.
• The Maginot Line - A series of concrete fortifications built by France following World War I to deter invasion. It was declared a “work of genius” in the 1930s as the French felt they would be safe from all future German aggression. But it was based on their experience with trench warfare, and obviously served as little deterrent when World War II occurred as the Germans had also re-thought their tactics (From Wikipedia).
• The Berlin Wall – Built in 1961, History.com described it as “the Soviet-aligned East German government built a series of concrete partitions separating East and West Berlin. While Communist leaders claimed the barriers were designed to keep out fascists and other enemies of the state, their real function was to prevent East Germans from defecting to the West.” Many were killed trying to scale it, but thousands did succeed. It stood for 28 years before it was demolished to great excitement around the world.
There are several clear warnings from history of why walls fail. Even the Great Wall, so massive it can still be seen from the moon, and with China’s massive population and an emperor who could command and punish by lopping off heads, failed as they couldn’t keep it manned.
Other walls failed due to technology. The French felt they were so smart with their defense line to stop WWI-style invasions but found out that walls are static while tactics to go around them are fluid. In building a wall to secure a border, we are simply challenging those who want to come illegally to find another route – by sea, tunnels, falsified documents and tricks at airports. In fact, one common way that illegal workers end up illegal is by coming on visas through normal channels and then not leaving – something a wall wouldn’t deter. And the illegal drugs already arrive by cars on roads, evading detection at recognized checkpoints - something else a wall won’t deter.
At least one wall failed due to politics or became obsolete as people on both sides no longer wanted the Berlin Wall, a political lesson we might want to consider. It is sheer arrogance to believe that our American wall, proposed to cover 1,000 miles of the 2,000 mile border in some discussions, will buck the trend of history.
Regardless of your political views, the saying that those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it is a hard fact to argue with.